Édouard Schuré and The Great Initiates
This first American edition of Édouard Schuré’s The Great Initiates marks another chapter in the eventful history of a remarkable book. According to a recent report, since its first publication in Paris in 1889 it has gone through 220 new editions. It is estimated that it has been purchased by approximately 750,000 persons, and -- counting its translations into many other languages, including Russian -- it has been read by somewhere between three and four million people. Today, without advertising effort beyond a brief listing in the trade catalogue of the Paris publisher, the French edition continues to sell about 3,000 copies annually.
Compared with the record of many modern American bestsellers, these figures may not seem particularly impressive. However, the fact that after seventy-two years The Great Initiates is still read and continues to sell in appreciable quantities, shows that many people in various parts of the world still enjoy this book.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this continued interest in The Great Initiates is that it is certain to make a very definite impression upon the reader. He may or may not enjoy it, but he will not easily forget it. Readers the world over recall their first meeting with Schuré’s Great Initiates with pleasure and appreciation, even after a lapse of many years.
In a certain sense, The Great Initiates is a pioneer work. It was born out of the author’s deep experience and observation of life. It is a protest against what he called "a false idea of truth and progress" current in his time, and in ours as well. It is his constructive answer to "the stagnation, disgust and impotence" resulting from a one-sided view of life, a pernicious evil still at work in human affairs today.
The Great Initiates encompasses long centuries of man’s life on earth, and reflects his great search -- the greatest search of all -- the quest for the spirit. The book describes the motivations behind external history, the growth of man’s religious striving, the rise and fall of cultures, and indicates their importance for us today. It reflects the lives and deeds of men of extraordinary stature, "the fire-pillars in the dark pilgrimage of mankind," Carlyle called them. In these pages one witnesses spiritual adventure of a depth and intensity rarely experienced by creative human beings, even in their most exalted moments. This aliveness, this freshness, this excitement of discovery which breathes through The Great Initiates may well explain its continuing popularity after nearly three-quarters of a century.
Édouard Schuré was born in the old cathedral city of Strasbourg on January 21, 1841. As a young boy he experienced certain events which, as he described them many years later, "left traces upon my thoughts, to which my memory returns ever and again." The result of these events he called "inner vision, evoked by impressions of the external world."
The first of these experiences occurred shortly after the death of his mother, when he and his father visited a resort in Alsace. On the walls of one of the buildings the ten-year-old boy saw a remarkable series of frescoes, depicting the world of undines, sylphs, gnomes and fire-spirits. Before these representations of what men of the Middle Ages called the Elemental Beings, here shown in vivid, wonderful artistic form, the boy was transported, as it were, into another world, the world of creative fantasy. Like a talisman, the pictures awakened the magic forces of wonder in the child’s soul. The artist’s creative fantasy called to the fantasy slumbering within the boy, and the result was a new perception. For, as Carlyle wrote, "Fantasy, being the organ of the Godlike, man thereby -- though based, to all seeming, on the small Visible, -- does nevertheless extend down into the infinite deeps of the Invisible, of which Invisible, indeed, his Life is properly the bodying."
From this time, "the infinite deeps of the Invisible" seemed to draw the boy ever and again into the cathedral at Strasbourg. There, in the hush of the crypt, the majesty of the great nave, the glory of the music, the awe-inspiring mystery of the service, the holy calm of the candle-flames, the wreathing fragrance of incense smoke ascending into the dimness, he felt a kind of inner satisfaction, a longing fulfilled. Something of the spirit of the great mystics, Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler, whose lives were connected with this place, touched the soul of the boy, and he felt the transforming peace of the Friends of God of Strasbourg. Finally the moment came when the world of the spirit opened itself before his enraptured eyes. It is perhaps prophetic of his future activity that again it was a work of art that was the external cause of this second milestone on Édouard Schuré’s path to the spirit.
One afternoon he was sitting in a corner of the lofty gallery of the cathedral, gazing in deep absorption at the light streaming through a great rose window. Like Dante when face to face with the Celestial Rose of the Paradise, the boy beheld the Figure of the Risen Christ, surrounded by an aureole of sublime glory. In that instant, cathedral, men, women -- all his earthly surroundings -- vanished, swallowed up in a heavenly influx. From that moment, for the rest of his long life, Édouard Schuré was convinced that his destiny was linked with the service of the divine world.
Not long after the death of his father, which occurred when Schuré was fourteen, he visited Paris, and saw for the first time the classical sculptures in the Louvre. The beauty of the Venus di Milo, of Dionysus, of the wounded Amazon, penetrated deeply into the boy, awakening in him a love and appreciation for the world of ancient Greece, which was to play so significant a role in his later work. In these sculptures Schuré became aware of the fact that a divine beauty can be made manifest in physical substance through the magic of art.
At about this same time Schuré read a description of the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, and the inner pictures this evoked were so vivid, so compelling, that he dedicated himself to the task of recreating the sacred drama of Eleusis for modern humanity. For Schuré was convinced that through the experiencing of such a drama, men of modern times can acquire a totally new conception of the relationship between the spiritual striving of the ancient world and the religious conceptions of today.
Parallel with these experiences of soul and spirit, Schuré’s early years were devoted to formal education. Eventually he received his degree in law at the University of Strasbourg, but he never entered into practice. He visited Germany, remaining there for a few years, during which time he wrote Histoire du lied, published in 1868. In this book he expressed his love for music and poetry, which had been enhanced by his personal acquaintance with Richard Wagner, then living in Munich. Schuré counted his relationship with Wagner as one of the three most important friendships of his life. In his Richard Wagner, son oeuvre et son idee (1875), Schuré recorded his deep appreciation of Wagner’s efforts to reconstruct in modern times and in contemporary musical form pictures from the spiritual history of humanity. Because of this book and many articles he wrote on the same theme, Schuré is remembered as a pioneer in developing an appreciation of Wagner’s work on the part of the French public.
Shortly after his return from his travels in Germany, Schuré married the sister of his friend, the composer Nessler. He and his wife moved to Paris, where Schuré continued his writing and studies, making friends with some of the most important men and women in the cultural life of France of his time.
With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Schuré and his wife went to Italy. In Florence he continued working on his Wagner book, entering whole-heartedly into the life of the literary and artistic circles of the city. There Schuré made the second great friendship of his life.
One day Malvida von Meysenbergs, the devoted admirer and helper of the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, introduced Édouard Schuré to a Greek lady, Margherita Albana Mignaty. The meeting made a profound impression upon Schuré, an impression he was to recall clearly in the last year of his life: "When I saw those great sunny radiant eyes directed questioningly upon me, I felt my consciousness almost desert me, for my whole being seemed called upon to reveal itself."
In the presence of this beautiful woman, so reminiscent of the women of the classical Greece he so deeply loved, Schuré once again found access to the spiritual world opening within him. In Margherita Albana Mignaty he discovered a soul to whom the unseen world was as immanent as the physical. This direct relationship with the spiritual world was the result of the death of her child, which had taken place some years before.
Through their many conversations, Schuré’s own spiritual perception broadened and deepened beyond anything he had previously imagined. He referred to her as his Muse, and saw in her "a spirit that moves mountains, a love which awakens and creates souls, and whose sublime inspiration burns like a radiant light." On one occasion he asked her how she acquired such precise knowledge of the spiritual history of mankind, such intimate details concerning long-forgotten antiquity. Her reply was profoundly simple: "When I wish to penetrate to the very depths of a subject, I shut myself in my room and reveal myself to myself."
Through the inspiration of Margherita Albana Mignaty, "as a testimony of a faith acquired and shared," The Great Initiates came into being. In the introduction to his Le Théâtre initiateur, son passe, son present, son avinir, based on a series of lectures Schuré gave before the Société de Géographie in Paris early in 1925, he wrote:
"Many years ago I happened to be at Florence, working at a poem on Empedocles, the philosopher-magician of Agrigentum, who ended his triumphant career by suicide on Mount Etna . . . Every morning I went to the Uffizi library to consult the ancient authors who had dealt with the Mysteries of Eleusis to which, from earliest youth, I had been irresistibly attracted. The municipal library, standing in the heart of Florence, behind the Museum, on the banks of the Arno, not far from the Palazzio Vecchio which proudly erects its slender campanile, sentinel-like, above the elegant city -- all this was a favorable setting for my meditations. One day, lost in the labyrinth of the mysteries contained in the pages of Plato and Porphyry, Iamblichus and Apuleius, my inner vision suddenly extended its bounds beyond the horizon.
"What fascinated me in the history of Empedocles was the torturing riddle of the Beyond, as it presents itself to the individual man through his emotional life. But what terrifying vistas are produced by this enigma when stated for the whole of humanity! What is mankind’s origin? What is humanity’s destination? From what abyss has humanity escaped, only to plunge into what annihilation, or into what Eternity? What relation does mankind bear to the cosmic powers working behind the apparent chaos of the universe, in order to produce so marvelous a harmony? In the dense darkness where the alarming materialism of our age wallows, it is no longer a matter of merely restoring the link between the visible and the invisible for individuals, but of demonstrating how fruitful is the working of the omnipotent Beyond in the history of all humanity.
"With these thoughts a new and ardent desire came to birth within me. I was filled with the impulse to trace the connection between the revelation of Eleusis and that of the Christ.
"In order to build a bridge between the lost Paradise and earth plunged in darkness, was it not necessary to reconstruct the living chain of the various religions, to restore to Hellenism and Christianity their original unity, to reconcile once again the whole tradition of East and West? At that instant, as in a flash I saw the Light that flows from one mighty founder of religion to another, from the Himalayas to the plateau of Iran, from Sinai to Tabor, from the crypts of Egypt to the sanctuary of Eleusis. Those great prophets, those powerful figures whom we call Rama, Krishna, Hermes, Moses, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato and Jesus, appeared before me in a homogeneous group. How diverse in form, appearance and color! Nevertheless, through them all moved the impulse of the eternal Word. To be in harmony with them is to hear the Word which was in the Beginning. It is to know and experience the continuity of inspiration in history as an historical fact.
"Could not this lightning vision, this moment of consciousness become a new bridge to traverse the abyss separating earth from heaven? It was as if I had found my Novum Organum. This work, coming to me from the very center of things, was sufficient to last me for the rest of my life, and far more. A new life opened, filled with work on The Great Initiates and the inspiring help of Margherita Albana Mignaty."
Today, when one reads page after page of fascinating details and vivid impressions drawn from the spiritual life of mankind, one may believe that the whole of The Great Initiates flowed easily and rapidly from the pen of the author. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though Schuré’s achievement ultimately brought him great joy, the writing of The Great Initiates was an arduous effort. His penetration into the spiritual world involved a constant inner struggle, and the entire task of writing the book required ten years of strenuous work.
After Schuré’s return to Paris he continued his work on The Great Initiates and also became a regular contributor of articles on the history of religions, the drama, and on general cultural subjects to the Revue des Deux Mondes and the Nouvelle Revue. He wrote on the Greek dramas, the Druids. Joan of Arc and other great figures of French history, the poetry of Shelley, the magic of Merlin, and repeatedly on the work of Richard Wagner. In August, 1876 Schuré traveled to Bayreuth to attend the first complete performance of Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen, given in the newly-constructed Festival Theater, under the direction of Hans Richter. Among the people of many countries who flocked to Bayreuth for this great cultural event was the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Schuré met Nietzsche, and had many conversations with him.
Like Nietzsche, Schuré revolted against the crass materialism of the nineteenth century which was rampant everywhere. As he wrote, "Science is concerned only with the physical and material world; ethical philosophy has lost the leadership of the minds of men; religion . . . no longer is supreme in the social life: ever great in charity, it no longer radiates the spirit of faith." The arid concepts of the scientific world of his time, expressed in the work of men like Claude Bernard, the physiologist, Berthelot, the chemist, Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, the positivist philosophers, Emile Duerckheim, the sociologist, and Hyppolite Taine, the psychologist -- to name but a few -- repelled him. On the other hand, observation had convinced Schuré that for the sake of temporal advantage the Church had sacrificed its former high estate, had compromised its position. In place of true faith and love, he observed the theological skepticism of men like David Friedrich Strauss, who described the Resurrection of the Christ as ein welthistorischer humbug, and Ernst Renan, the ex-seminarist, who exclaimed about Christianity, "O divine comedy!" In Schuré’s view such exclamations, greeted with appreciation by many cultured men of the time, were the spirit of Antichrist incarnate. His firm conviction was, "Today neither the Church, imprisoned in its dogma, nor science, locked up inside matter, any longer knows how to make men whole. Science need not change its method, but it must broaden its scope; Chrisianity need not change its tradition, but it must understand its origins, its spirit and its significance."
The giants of French literature in the nineteenth century, with their rejection of any evidence of the existence of the spiritual world and their utter refusal to recognize inspiration as a source of creative work, gave Schuré great concern. He observed that "Art and literature have lost the sense of the divine. A large part of our youth has become interested in what its new masters call Naturalism, thus degrading the beautiful name of Nature, for Naturalism is the systematic negation of the soul and the spirit." Thus in the naturalistic writing of Anatole France, Emile Zola and others like them, Schuré detected an infectious illness gnawing at the vitals of the cultural and spiritual life of his time. Proof positive, in his eyes, was Zola’s insistence that the work of the novelist must be based "upon the scientific methods of psychology," which meant the death-blow to creative life as Schuré understood it.
Schuré was convinced that without a total reorientation in terms of the spirit, a complete renewal of outlook in regard to science, art and religion, the man of the nineteenth century faced a deterioration of his physical capacities, a dulling of his soul activities and a serious weakening of his spiritual faculties. For Schuré, the wonderful achievements of technical science, the so-called progress in art and the "higher criticism" which explained the Gospels on the solid basis of materialism, since one and all turned their backs upon the true relationship of man and the spiritual world, was but an accumulating of wrath against the day of wrath. -- And when one considers where the once acclaimed materialism of the last century has led, when one considers the terrible harvest of war, the unspeakable suffering which has accrued from it to untold millions in our own time, can one doubt for a moment that Schuré was right?
In the autumn of 1887 came the news of the death of Margherita Albana Mignaty. Some time before, in writing of her impending decease, as token of their continuing oneness, she had promised to bequeath to Schuré her Lamp, her Lyre and her Torch. In a dream Schuré understood these symbols to mean the light of her spirit, the melodious instrument of her soul, and the undying flame of her love, which would accompany him always in his creative work. His continued productivity in the after-years, his constant love for her and his undiminished sense of her nearness were precious tokens to Schuré that his Muse had kept her promise, even beyond death. To the very end of his long life, her spiritual presence was his constant comfort, his strength, his consolation in sorrow, his joy and inspiration, and with deepest reverence, appreciation and gratitude he often spoke of all that she meant, of all that she had brought to him ...
Two years after her death Édouard Schuré’s The Great Initiates was published, and he dedicated the book to her memory with the declaration,
“. . . Without you, this book would never have appeared . . . you hovered over it . . . you nurtured it, and you blessed it with a hope divine . . ."
"In 1889, when it first appeared, my Great Initiates was greeted by the press with icy silence. Nevertheless, after a short time, subsequent editions multiplied and kept increasing from year to year. At first the ideas appeared startling to the majority of readers. They evoked the distrust of both University and Church, but neither this nor the coldness of most of our critics hindered the book’s success. Slowly and surely The Great Initiates continued on its way through the gloom, winning its success by its own strength. Letters of interest and appreciation poured in from all parts of the world, coming to me from five continents. During the (First) World War innumerable letters accumulated at my home, the most sincere of them from the battlefront. Since that time there has been such an acceleration in the sale of the work that one day my eminent friend, Andre Bellesort, said to me, ‘You have not only won your public, but the public!’ "
These lines were written by Schuré in 1926 when the 91st edition of The Great Initiates was passing through the press. He concluded: "Since The Great Initiates has continued on its upward path despite tradition and prejudice, I must conclude that there is a vital power in its principal idea. This idea is none other than a clear and determined reconciliation between science and religion, whose dualism has sapped the foundations of our civilization, and threatens us with the worst catastrophes. This reconciliation can be effected only by a new composite view of the visible and invisible world by means of spiritual insight and inner vision. Only the certainty of the immortal soul can form a solid basis for earthly life, and only the concord of the great religions, brought about by a return to their common Source of inspiration, can secure the brotherhood of peoples and the future of mankind."
Of what Schuré called the three most significant friendships of his life, the first was with Richard Wagner, the second with Margherita Albana Mignaty, and the third with Rudolf Steiner. Through Wagner’s music dramas Schuré found his connection with the mystery character of ancient myth and legend. Through Margherita Albana Mignaty he acquired the inspiration and insight to create The Great Initiates. Through his friendship with Rudolf Steiner, for the first time in his life he found himself in the physical presence of a man whose spiritual stature and insight were akin to those figures he had described in his book. Therefore, in a certain sense, Schuré’s relationship with Steiner was a kind of fulfillment of the spiritual-artistic task he had undertaken with the writing of The Great Initiates.
In his memoirs Schuré recalled that it was in 1902 that "Marie von Sivers (later Marie Steiner) had written to me for the first time about Rudolf Steiner, the man whose knowledge exceeded everything which until then had been considered esoteric by men."
In May, 1906, Édouard Schuré and Rudolf Steiner met for the first time when the latter visited Paris to give a course of eighteen lectures on matters of spiritual knowledge. Schuré recalled that "From all I had heard from Marie von Sivers and had read elsewhere, I had indeed expected a man who might have the same goal as myself. However, I was rather indifferent when Rudolf Steiner came to meet me.
"Then -- as he stood in the doorway and looked at me with eyes which revealed an understanding of infinite heights and depths of development, and his almost ascetic countenance, expressing and instilling kindness and boundless confidence -- he made a tremendous impression upon me (une impression foudroyante). Such an impression I had experienced only twice before in my life, and then much less strongly, with Richard Wagner and with Margherita Albana Mignaty. Immediately two things became clear to me, even before Rudolf Steiner started to speak.
"For the very first time I was certain that an initiate stood before me. For a long while I had lived in spirit with initiates of the past, whose history and development I had attempted to describe. And here at last, one stood before me on the physical plane.
"A second thing also became clear to me in this very brief moment, as we forgot everything about us, and only looked into each other’s eyes: I was certain that this man standing before me was to play an important role in my life."
As for the lectures themselves, Schuré recalled that Steiner’s "warm, convincing speech, illuminated by continuous clear thinking, impressed me immediately ... When he spoke about the appearances and happenings in the supersensible world, it was as if he was completely at home there. In familiar language he told us what took place in those unfamiliar regions ... He did not describe; he saw the objects and happenings, and made them visible in such a way that those cosmic events appeared to one like real objects on the physical plane. When one listened to him, one could have no doubt of his spiritual insight, which was as clear as physical vision, only much more comprehensive."
Later, Schuré published his extensive notes of Steiner’s Paris lectures in order, as he wrote, "to venerate anew the incomparable master, to whom I owe one of the greatest enlightenments of my life."
Among the audiences attending Steiner’s course of lectures in Paris at this time, filling the hall to overflowing, were people from England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Russia. Writers well known in the Russian literature of the period were present, including the poets K. D. Balmont and N. M. Minski, the novelist, Dimitri S. Mereshkovski and his wife, Znadia N. Hippius.
In his autobiography, The Course of My Life, Steiner wrote of these Paris lectures of 1906: "In this cycle of lectures I gave what I felt to be ‘mature’ within me of the leading elements of spiritual knowledge pertaining to the nature of the human being . . . This knowledge was among the most profoundly moving inner experiences of my soul ..."
The first performance of Schuré’s drama, The Mystery of Eleusis, was given at Munich in May, 1907. Steiner related that "Long before, Marie von Sivers had translated Schuré’s reconstruction of the Eleusinian drama. I arranged it as to language for dramatic presentation." The performance took place on Whitsunday, and all the details of the production: the acting, costume design and scenic effects had been executed under Steiner’s direction.
Schuré was present at the performance, and wrote that "What I had seen and represented unconsciously, Steiner recognized and confirmed. He saw in this Mystery of Eleusis the starting-point of true dramatic art . . . and confirmed not only the form of my drama, but also the treatment and words. I can hardly express what inner satisfaction I felt when Steiner made this clear to me, and further, what encouragement I received to continue the work I had been doing. For it is one of those very cherished moments in the creative life of the artist when he meets someone who recognizes and knows that he is drawing what he says from spiritual vision ..."
In 1909 Steiner staged a production of Schuré’s play, The Children of Lucifer, written in 1900. Marie von Sivers had translated the play into German, and Schuré, who witnessed its first presentation, was very much pleased with the whole undertaking. Like many another author, Schuré had his experience with an inquisitive audience on this occasion: "After the performance, I was overwhelmed with questions. People asked where I had found this or that, and why I had written this or that in such a way. And I well remember how Rudolf Steiner stood by my side and looked at the questioners as if he wished to help me out of my embarrassment. Of course I could not say where I had got all this and why it was so and not otherwise. And no one understood that better than Rudolf Steiner."
The year 1909 is also important in the relationship between Schuré and Steiner, for it was then that Marie von Sivers’ translation of The Great Initiates -- Die Grosse Eingeweiten -- was published by the firm of Max Altmann in Leipzig. In the introduction to this book, Rudolf Steiner wrote in part: "Schuré is convinced that there is a future for spiritual culture . . . His artistic creativity rests upon this faith, and this book has grown out of it. It speaks about the ‘Great Illuminated,’ the Great Initiates, who have looked deeply into the background of things, and from this background have given great impulses for the spiritual development of mankind. It traces the great spiritual deeds of Rama, Krishna, Hermes, Pythagoras and Plato, in order to show the unification of all these impulses in Christ ... The light streaming from Schuré’s book enlightens those who wish to be firmly rooted in the spiritual sources from which strength and certainty for modern life can be drawn. One who understands the religious needs of our time will be able to recognize the benefits Schuré’s book can provide in this area particularly. It offers historic proof that the essence of religion is not to be separated from the concept of ‘initiation’ or ‘illumination.’ The need for religion is universally human. A soul that assumes it can live without religion is caught in a deep self-deception. But these needs can be satisfied only by the messengers of the spiritual world, who have attained the highest level of development. Religion ultimately can reveal the greatest verities to the simplest hearts. Thus its starting-point lies where fantasy lays aside the cloak of illusion and becomes imagination, so that the highest reality is disclosed to the soul, and where the search for truth becomes inspiration, at which stage not the reflected light of thoughts, but the primordial light of ideas, speaks. Inasmuch as Schuré describes the great founders of religion as the highest initiates, he presents the religious development of mankind from its deepest roots. One will understand the essence of ‘initiation’ of the future when one gains an insight into this through the great religious phenomena of the past.
"Today there is much talk about the limits of human knowledge. It is said that this or that must be hidden from man because with his understanding he cannot penetrate beyond a certain point. In future one will recognize that a person’s limits of understanding will widen to the extent that he develops himself. Things that seemed unknowable enter into the realm of knowledge when man unfolds his capacities for knowledge which slumber within him. Once one has gained confidence in such a widening of the human capacities for knowledge, he has already entered upon the path, at the end of which stand the Great Initiates.
"Schuré’s book is one of the best guides for finding this path in our day. It speaks about the deeds of the Illuminated. These deeds can be recognized in the spiritual history of mankind, and this book traces the path from these deeds to the souls of the Illuminated themselves ...
"When people can become convinced that the spiritual impulses of the past, which continue to live on in their souls, have originated from the faculty of spiritual insight, then they will be able to work their way to the recognition that this faculty can also be attained today.
"One who can trace the spiritual life of the present, not merely on the surface, but in its depths, will be able to observe how, after the ebbing away of materialistic streams, sources of the spiritual life open up from many directions. Whoever observes this clearly will not question the transitory necessity of materialism. He will know that this materialism had to develop in these last centuries because the fruits of external culture were possible only under its one-sided influence. But such a person will also see the dawning of a new age of spirituality.
"In Schuré’s Great Initiates we believe we have one of the best symptoms of this approaching spiritual age. We include the author of this book among those who boldly step forward into the dawn of this age. The strength which flows from searching into the souls of the Great Initiates has given him the daring and the freedom necessary to write such a courageous book as the one before us."
In 1911 a second German edition of The Great Initiates appeared, and Steiner wrote in the introduction, "Édouard Schuré, the profound portrayer of The Great Initiates, appeals to souls who yearningly lift their eyes to the great guides of human intuition, in order that they may fill themselves with the ideas which have been revealed in the course of history. These ideas can awaken within every human being a premonition of the solution of the riddles of existence.
"Today we possess a rich, scholarly literature concerning many of the personalities about whom Schuré speaks in this book . . . but Schuré’s brilliant description gives something essentially different than this literature. A personality speaks through this book, penetrating with intuitive eyes into the activity of the soul powers which embody themselves in man. This personality has the capacity to lift the reader to the horizon of eternal ideas, whose realization is the true history of mankind."
In May, 1914 Rudolf Steiner again visited Paris for a brief series of lectures. On this occasion he went out to the town of Chartres with Édouard Schuré in order to visit the wonderful Gothic cathedral, one of the glories of human artistic achievement. In his memoirs Schuré relates that "We had stood for a long time in the right aisle of the church. He had remained rather quiet. Then, as we were going out, he related to me wonderful things about John, about the Gospel of St. John, and went back suddenly to Plato and Aristotle. I could not escape the impression that he had met these figures again in the cathedral. These and other impressions remain unforgettably with me, and since that time they have admonished me to return to my own path, which from that moment has been quite clearly that of the Christian inspiration."
From this intimate picture, one can understand that his friendship with Rudolf Steiner was a highly decisive turning-point in the life of Édouard Schuré. His premonition upon first meeting Steiner, that the latter "was to play an important role" in his life, was amply fulfilled.
Two months after their Chartres visit, the shadows of world conflict passed over Europe, and Schuré and Steiner were separated by the tragic events which followed. However, in the midst of the war, a third German edition of The Great Initiates was called for, and again Steiner wrote a brief introduction, dating it, "Berlin, July, 1916." Indicating that "the thoughts of The Great Initiates find a sympathetic response in the stream of development which is connected with Herder and Goethe," with characteristic insight and awareness of the need for objectivity, particularly at a moment in history when national feelings tended to cloud men’s judgments, Steiner concluded, "The content of Schuré’s book definitely belongs to those universal spiritual values which stand over and above what separates nations."
In another context, Steiner referred to The Great Initiates: "The thoughts contained in this book have strongly influenced the souls and minds of the present time, but only the future will show the whole extent of this influence." In conclusion, he prophesied that the day would come when "this book will be considered an extremely valuable contribution to the spiritual content of our age."
Édouard Schuré is reported to have said that he considered the section on the Christ in The Great Initiates "the weakest part of the book." This realization came to him when he translated Rudolf Steiner’s Christentum als Mystische Tatsache, Christianity as a Mystical Fact, into French. From Steiner’s book Schuré experienced the esoteric depth and grandeur of the Deed of the Christ in its significance for the whole of earth evolution. Schuré wrote that in Steiner’s work he found "a confirmation of the fundamental place of Christ in history. He is shown to be the manifestation of the divine Word through man. Steiner places Him as the axis and center in the development of mankind . . . The divine Word, the Christ, dwelt above humanity from the Beginning . . . But only gradually has He drawn near mankind in the course of the latter’s development. He illuminated prophets like Krishna, Buddha, Hermes, Moses, but He completely manifested Himself only when He incarnated on the physical plane in the personality of Jesus of Nazareth."
In Rudolf Steiner’s Science of the Spirit, or Anthroposophy, Édouard Schuré found full and satisfying amplification of these thoughts.
At the conclusion of his L’Evolution divine, Schuré looks forward to what science, art and religion will be in times to come. He envisions a Christianity of the future which is in the highest sense artistic, because it includes within itself all the creations of art, basing them upon the most selfless, most sublimely artistic Deed of Love ever fulfilled upon earth: the Mystery of Golgotha and Resurrection. Then Schuré concludes, "This religion will be explained and supported by a new science, which might be called the Science of the Spirit. The aim of the latter will be to seek from the principles and causes that lie behind all phenomena, and to ascend from the visible to the invisible, from the material to the spiritual. With this object in view, the Science of the Spirit will strive to build up a synthesis of the sciences of physical observation by cultivating, through the discipline of initiation, the faculties of imagination, inspiration and intuition that are necessary for the perception of the soul and spiritual worlds . . . Art will be the inspired interpreter, the hierophant and the torch-bearer of integral Science and universal Religion ..."
In his book The Great Initiates Édouard Schuré makes his contribution toward the fulfillment of this prophecy. For he is a pioneer in depicting for modern times man’s eternal striving for knowledge of his origin, evolution and destiny in the light of the eternal spirit.
-- Paul M. Allen
South Egremont, Massachusetts,
RAMA: The Aryan Cycle
The Great Initiates